Sculpture : The Best Art Bargain?
According to Peter Rathbone, senior vice president and director of the American paintings and sculpture department at Sotheby’s, although lower-priced paintings are more numerous than affordable three-dimensional pieces, sculpture bargains usually pack more of a punch dollar-for-dollar when it comes to quality.
“If you find a first-rate modern piece of sculpture, it may well cost you a lot less than a painting of equal quality,” he said, though he added that exact numeric comparisons are hard to make.
For years I've assumed this disparity was related more to what I think of as the home-space law of diminishing returns (i.e., if you have to buy a bigger apartment to house your sculpture, what kind of bargain was it?), especially in New York, but the artinfo.com article suggests another factor I hadn't considered:
Second, sculpture is a less obvious choice for collectors. According to [Michael Hackett, co-director of the San Francisco-based Hackett-Freedman Gallery], most people begin collecting art by acquiring a two-dimensional work, and then they continue to purchase works in the medium of their first purchase.Then however, the artinfo.com article offers a rationale that seems counter-intuitive to me:
Finally, there are simply many more painters than sculptors. This is partially because of the voracious demand for two-dimensional works and partially because sculpture tends to be more difficult, costly, and time consuming for artists.But that would suggest less supply for sculpture, which one would expect to increase the demand (and therefore the price), so I'm not sure that explanation makes market sense. I think the "voracious demand for two-dimensional work" is related to space considerations, not the paucity of great sculptors. I know plenty of excellent sculptors who working other full-time jobs to be able to afford their studio practice (when they get to it). No, I think that final notion is misguided. There may be more painters exhibited in galleries, but I don't see, in my travels through the studios of the metropolitan area, any great disparity in the number of painters versus sculptors. Perhaps it's because I'm drawn to sculpture and seek it out, but I don't think so. (Other New York studio visitors? Your sense of this question?)
“It’s more difficult to create successful sculpture than it is to create successful paintings,” Hackett said. “There are fewer great sculptors than there are great painters. For every Richard Serra, there are at least 20 quality painters.”
But back to the article's central premise, which I totally agree with: sculpture in general is undervalued and provides a high return with regards to quality in the current market. So if you have the space, remember, real collectors buy quality.